Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Petition to boycott Elsevier journals up to [nearly] 4500 signatures

Elsevier, a scientific publisher, has recently raised the ire of scientists and mathematicians (and librarians) concerned about the rise in journal prices, business practices, and lobbying stances taken by academic publishers.

Well-known mathematician, Tim Gowers, in a piece on his Gowers’s Weblog, was the proximate cause of the latest campaign in reaction to these issues.  He took a stand on Elsevier's practices and positions, namely, the high cost of their journals, the bundling many journals in packages for academic libraries, their 'ruthless' reactions when libraries object to this practice, and their support for the Research Works Act (which would discourage the open access publishing movement) and SOPA and PIPA.  That a prominent mathematician would publicly proclaim his refusal to publish in, or engage in reviewing or editing Elsevier journals caught the attention of the scientific community. It inspired Tyler Neylon to put up an online petition, The Cost of Knowledge, where scientists could register their commitment to boycott Elsevier in those specific ways.

In the time it has taken me to write these words, the number of signatories went from 4479 to 4492.  I will check one more time before I finish this post.

Elsevier, naturally, doesn't  agree with Mr. Gower.  A piece in The Scientist outlines their position - it didn't make a lot of sense to me, so I will leave it to my readers to judge for themselves.  I hasten to add that Elsevier is merely one of the scholarly publishers with these issues, albeit one with the highest priced journals.  It's a complex market/situation/issue.  I wouldn't recommend the Wikipedia article on this topic (Serials Crisis) as it currently stands. If you would like to know more about it, please contact me.

Librarians have been shouting about these issues for a long time - we are on the front line in the struggle to provide access to the academic literature. One could say that we have done such a good job that the problem was obscured to most people - they could get the stuff they needed, so why would they complain? One of the points that Elsevier does not address in The Scientist piece is that the rate of inflation for academic journals  overall has been about 8% per year - much higher than nearly everything else in the economy, including the rise in tuition and fees to students, or academic salaries.  (I've been looking for reasonable sources for this contention but I can't lay my hands on it right now - will provide later.) It has occurred to me that  perhaps commercial publishers are milking the situation as hard as they can now because they see the writing on the wall, so to speak - their cash cow is nearly spent.

Tim Gowers's blog is thoughtful - he had no intention of starting a movement, and he is moving on to looking for alternatives to Elsvier.  I particularly liked reading his post "What's wrong with electronic journals."

The petition just went over 4500.
Note: 9 Feb they are approaching 5000 signers.
6 April, approaching 9000